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Internships: Are They A Learning Experience or Just Free Labor?

Posted by Peter K. Levine | Sep 05, 2013 | 0 Comments

Former intern seeks class action lawsuit

A former intern is seeking a class-action lawsuit against Donna Karan International over his unpaid internship at the company in 2009.

Vallentino Smith claims that he clocked in 16 hours a week without pay when he was an undergraduate student working at the company's Seventh Avenue headquarters.

Smith‘s lawyer, Lloyd Ambinder, said his client, like a lot of undergraduates trying to build up their resumes, went for an internship in a glamorous industry where jobs are harder to get. “They took advantage of him. You don't see this in waste management or funeral homes.”

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, an internship must meet certain criteria in order to be classified as unpaid without violating the law. One such example is that the internship must be “for the benefit of the intern” and be “similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”

“Get the coffee…”

“I was told it would be a great learning experience,” Smith said of the 16 hours a week that he logged. However, instead of learning about marketing, he said all he did was get coffee and organize fashion closets.

Smith who now has a master's degree from Long Island University, is seeking retroactive pay for the hours he worked (at a minimum wage rate of $7.15 per hour) and would like his case to be classified as a class-action lawsuit so he can represent at least 100 other unpaid Donna Karan interns. Ambinder said Karan took on at least two-dozen unpaid interns during the same spring semester that Smith worked there.

Smith's accusations are the latest in a group of unpaid internship lawsuits questioning companies that take on unpaid interns. Legal experts have predicted that the trend in these unpaid internship lawsuits is likely to spread and that employers across industries should “take note.”

About the Author

Peter K. Levine

  Our firm handles legal matters in the following practice areas: Complex Civil Litigation; Medical Malpractice; Wrongful Death; Personal Injury; Premises Liability; Business Litigation; Employment Law; Discrimination Law; Sexual Harassment Law; Wrongful Termination and Employment Law; Civil Rig...

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